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Ukraine Nuclear Disarmament Prompts Clinton to Double Aid

By Doyle McManus
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

President Clinton, encouraged by Ukraine's agreement to dismantle nuclear weapons and its cautious turn toward economic reform, has decided to more than double U.S. aid to the strategically important country, officials said Thursday.

Clinton plans to announce the boost in aid, from $330 million to about $700 million, after he has lunch at the White House with visiting Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk Friday.

The quick increase in aid reflects heightened interest by the Clinton administration in Ukraine, the second largest republic of the former Soviet Union and, with more than 1,600 nuclear warheads on its territory, the owner of the world's third most powerful atomic arsenal.

"We're bullish on Ukraine," a White House official said. "Kravchuk has made a remarkable turnaround in the last few months, on both nuclear weapons and economic reform."

On paper, Ukraine does not look like a sure thing. Its economy is in hyperinflation, the ethnic-Russian citizens of its Crimean peninsula have voted to secede, and Kravchuk himself -- the one man who seemed able to hold the country together -- announced last week that he does not plan to run for re-election.

But the picture may not be as bleak as it looks, U.S. officials insist. "For the first time in two years, we now have a normal relationship with Ukraine, and we hope this is the start of something much better," the official said.

Besides, aides say, the United States needs to help Ukraine precisely because it has problems -- and because its collapse could provide an excuse for Russian nationalists next door to reassert Moscow's claim to control.

Moreover, critics of the Clinton administration have been complaining that the president has put too much emphasis on his relationship with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and too little on the other post-Soviet republics. "This should make senators of both parties feel better," one official said.

But Kravchuk, on his three-day stay in Washington, will not get one thing he wanted: stronger assurances that the United States and other Western countries will guarantee Ukraine's security against any Russian military attacks or economic pressure.

Clinton promised him assurances when he stopped in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in January to collect Kravchuk's agreement to dismantle his nuclear arsenal. But the Ukrainian leader still hasn't succeeded in getting his parliament to ratify the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as Clinton had asked.

"Kravchuk ... will get promises of security assurances once they accede to the NPT," the official said. "We're not going to formally extend assurances until they accede to the NPT."

But officials say they are confident that will happen eventually.